§ 5. Mr. Aitken
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will make a statement on the progress of her negotiations with the junior hospital doctors.
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mrs. Barbara Castle)
Following my statement to the House on 1st December—[Vol. 901, c. 1255–69]—the BMA wrote to me on Friday last accepting the offer which I had made two weks previously of an independent audit of the figures relating to extra duty allowances, provided that the audit covers the figures relating to EDA expenditure over the current period of April to October this year. I have replied saying that I shall be happy to arrange this, but pointing out that the latest figures yet available to me are for the six-weeks' duty period ending June 1975. Figures 214 for two further periods up to the end of August will be available within a week. It is unlikely, however, that the October figures will be available before Christmas, and it may be later. I have therefore invited the BMA Hospital Junior Staffs Committee to meet me this afternoon to discuss the final date for the figures which it would be reasonable to take as the basis of the independent audit. It would of course be for the Review Body to decide whether it should in any way revise its pricing of the juniors' new contract in the light of the later figures.
I am glad that the BMA has once again made clear that it does not dispute the earlier figures on which the Review Body made its calculations. It is not a question, therefore, of our figures having been wrong it is merely that later figures are now available.
I have always stressed that I am anxious for the juniors to receive all they are entitled to under the pay policy and, to save time, I am willing to forward the later figures to the Review Body for examination as they become available to me, pending the outcome of the independent audit. Since I have met the request of the juniors on these points in full I would expect them to agree to accept the findings of the examination of the latest figures, whatever may be its outcome, and so to call off without delay their industrial action which is causing increasing hardship to patients and damage to the NHS.
I have placed copies of this latest correspondence in the Library.
§ Mr. Aitken
I thank the Secretary of State for that brief reply. Is she aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see this damaging dispute ended as soon as possible, by settlement within the limits of the pay policy? At the same time, is she also aware that there is a widespread feeling that the Government have handled this dispute less than skilfully, especially over the quite unreasonable delays in producing the up-to-date extra-duty allowance figures, some of which at least are in the possession of the regions even if they are not yet in the possession of the right hon. Lady? Will she now give an assurance that the most up-to-date 1975 extra-duty allowance figures will be given to the 215 independent auditor as quickly as possible, because that is the best way of getting the doctors back to work?
§ Mrs. Castle
I think that my Answer was exactly along those lines. It is quite untrue that there has been delay in getting the latest figures. We have to wait until they are collected in the areas, districts and regions, and forwarded to us. Then, by agreement, there is a four-weeks period of grace to enable late claims to be entered. Indeed, it would be contrary to the junior doctors' interests if that were not so. The figures then have to be processed by the computer.
We have always proceeded on the basis of the latest figures that we could lay our hands on. In fixing the sum available to price the new contract, with the agreement of all sides, who were anxious to get the contract priced quickly, we took the figures which were then available to us.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Will my right hon. Friend advise the House not to be too sensitive about the additional payments or the extra-duty allowances being an infringement of the £6 maximum? Overtime and payment by results have never been considered an infringement of the existing social contract and the £6 arrangement. Therefore, will my right hon. Friend advise the House that we should not be too sensitive about there being an infringement of the social contract?
§ Mrs. Castle
I tell my hon. Friend firmly that the Government do not intend to breach the pay policy. Indeed, the BMA in its latest letters to me has reiterated its view that it does not think the pay policy should be breached. It is my responsibility to defend the pay policy. My hon. Friend is wrong to say that extra amounts of overtime are permissible under the pay policy. They are not. They must be included in the £6 limit. However, the pay policy does provide that if the new contract system is introduced on a given date, the expected annual flow of pay under the new system must not exceed the current flow, in annual terms, under the old system. We are trying to establish the figures for the current flow.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler
Is the right hon. Lady aware that what she is now doing 216 is precisely what the Conservatives urged eight days ago—having an independent examination to see whether her £12 million figure was out of date? Is she also aware that we welcome this development and emphasise that the negotiations are within the policy? We urge normal work to be resumed. Does she also recognise that we have questions to raise on the Government's handling of this dispute, and will she make arrangements for a proper statement to be made to the House tomorrow.
§ Mrs. Castle
I think it was on 1st December that the hon. Gentleman last urged me to take later figures. At that time I did not have available later figures than the March ones. I sent the information to him. The House must recognise that the figures are coming in periodically. At present I have only the figures to the end of June, and they arrived only last week. I did not have them at the time the hon. Gentleman raised this matter. I hope that he is not suggesting to the House that he is encouraging junior doctors to stay out on industrial action in the hope—[Interruption.] I shall continue my answer. I repeat what I said. I hope that the hon. Gentleman—
§ Mrs. Castle
This is a very relevant point to my talks this afternoon. I put it to the House very seriously. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not encouraging the continuation of industrial action—[Interruption.] I should be grateful, Mr. Speaker, if I could be allowed to complete a sentence. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not encouraging the continuance of industrial action in order to enable later figures to be obtained. At the time of the pricing—[Interruption.] I put it to the hon. Member that I am currently faced by the juniors with a demand that we should produce the figures to the end of October. As I have just told the House, those figures will not 217 be available till Christmas, or after. I hope that the House will say that the juniors should take what figures are now available. I shall submit them to independent audit. I shall submit them to the review body. I hope that the House will now say to the juniors that they should agree to accept whatever may be the outcome of that examination and get back to work at once.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler
That is a disgraceful taunt by the right hon. Lady. May I repeat what I said originally, and ask the House to listen? We urge normal working to be resumed. What we want the right hon. Lady to do is to make a statement in the House, tomorrow, on these negotiations.
§ Mrs. Castle
I repeat to the hon. Gentleman that if he is urging the doctors to return to work—I accept that he has always said that he does not endorse the industrial action—I ask him to face this fact: what it means is that the juniors must go back to work on the basis of the figures I have. If we are going to say "No, we shall wait for the October figures and see what they are like," we shall have the industrial action, with all its risk to patients, continuing beyond Christmas. All that I am asking the House today to say is that they endorse what I shall say to the juniors this afternoon—that I have gone to the utmost limit in producing the figures, and will they now agree to accept the outcome of the review, whatever it may be, and go back to work?
§ Mr. Aitken
In view of the unsatisfactory nature of those replies, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as possible.